Corporate Dirty Tricks And Romance In 'Duplicity'

Corporate dirty tricks aren't just for the news headlines anymore. Now, they provide the backdrop for a new film — part romance, part spy thriller. In the movie Duplicity, which opened Friday, former spies Julia Roberts and Clive Owen go undercover with a pair of conglomerates to steal the plans for a multimillion dollar product. Writer-director Tony Gilroy talks to Jacki Lyden about his densely plotted romantic thriller.

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JACKI LYDEN, host:

International spies learn one lesson quickly: trust no one. So, when two agents decide to get into bed together - both professionally and romantically - well, things can get messy.

(Soundbite of film, "Duplicity")

Ms. JULIA ROBERTS (Actor): (As Claire Stenwick) I've spent the last 14 months under cover inside Burkett & Randall. I'm an assistant director of counterintelligence. I am all the way in. So, let's get this straight. I'm the asset here. You're a delivery boy.

Mr. CLIVE OWENS (Actor): (As Ray Koval) I run field agents for a living. There's only two ways to do it. Either you bring them flowers, or you hang them by their heels out of the window.

Now, maybe you're so used to having your legs in the air you don't realize it, but you're upside down, sister. I own you.

LYDEN: That's a scene from the new movie "Duplicity." It debuted in theaters this weekend and collected $14 million. Julia Roberts plays former CIA officer Claire Stenwick, and Clive Owen is Ray Koval of MI6, British intelligence.

They're employed by two warring companies. One is about to bring a miracle product to market, and the other is doing everything it can to steal the formula.

So, those two companies need elaborate counterintelligence operations just to keep each other at bay. That's where Clair and Ray come in. What their bosses don't know is that Claire and Ray are lovers, and they've hatched their own scheme to steal the formula, all the while fending off their deep suspicion of each other.

Tony Gilroy is the Oscar-nominated writer and director of "Michael Clayton," and he went behind the lens for "Duplicity," as well.

Mr. TONY GILROY (Writer, Director, "Duplicity"): What this really is is sort of a spy movie in the classic sense between two nation-states that are corporations instead of a Cold War. It's sort of a Cold War film between two corporations.

LYDEN: These companies are called Omnicron(ph) and Burkett & Randall, and the work they do for them doesn't seem that different from espionage, and these companies almost operate as their countries outside the norms in every single way, and perhaps that would have been less believable only a week or two ago.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILROY: This is a big business. I mean, this is a very - as wild as some of the things that happen in the film, there really isn't anything that hasn't happened or isn't going on right now.

Just look at, like, the Pellicano case. I mean…

LYDEN: And this is where the detective was hired by different producers and agents…

Mr. GILROY: By producers and people to spy on people.

LYDEN: Yeah, to spy on one another.

Mr. GILROY: The day we were out on the road trying to sell this, convincing people that this is a real thing, someone was saying well, this can't really be that way.

His computer hacker was sentenced - I don't know what it was, three or six years - the 25-year-old kid who had built the system that was able to digest all the phone calls that he was recording.

This isn't Hollywood. The economics are pretty straightforward. If you make something, a product, for $60 million, and you design it, and you work it up for a couple of years, and you build a whole marketing campaign, and you're getting ready to unveil it, if I'm your competitor, if I can find out what you have for $2 million, that gap in between is really worth something.

I guess the motor through all of this is you're never really quite sure who's on whose side and who can be believed.

LYDEN: The romantic relationship, Claire and Ray, spies incapable of trust.

Mr. GILROY: Right.

LYDEN: What was the push-pull you were trying to establish between them?

Mr. GILROY: The very first notion for this, you sort of carry all these little ideas around for years, and you wait and see if there's a place to put them, and I'd always been toying with the idea of two spies in love.

How would two people who are just rewarded and built to be liars and to be suspicious of everything, how could they have a relationship with anybody else? How could I ever possibly trust you? How could you ever trust me? And how could we ever possibly be vulnerable enough to get to a place where that could happen?

LYDEN: I want to play a scene from the film. Here, Julia Roberts' character has surprised Clive Owen at his apartment, poor guy, and she did a little snooping before he arrived.

(Soundbite of film, "Duplicity")

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Stenwick) Are these hers?

Mr. OWEN: (As Koval) What is that?

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Stenwick) It's a thong. It was in your closet.

Mr. OWEN: (As Koval) That's not possible.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Stenwick) You're denying it?

Mr. OWEN: (As Koval) Absolutely. The only woman who's been in this place since I moved in is the landlady, and she couldn't wear that as a wristband.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Stenwick) So where did they come from?

Mr. OWEN: (As Koval) Claire, I swear, I swear on all things good and true, I have no idea who they belong to. And the fact that you don't believe me, the fact that we've been through everything that we've been through and that you still don't trust me on this is, quite frankly, disturbing.

Ms. ROBERTS: (As Stenwick) Well in that case, I'll put them back on.

Mr. GILROY: I mean, they're scoundrels. I mean, they really are scoundrels.

LYDEN: I have to tell you, I love that scene. And there's a lot of humor in this. That must be tough to make us care about them and make them believable.

Mr. GILROY: A romantic film is sort of like a ménage-a-trois where the audience becomes a third part of this relationship. You have to fall in love with these two people falling in love. And how the movie was going to be cast was critical, you know?

They had to be sophisticated and intelligent and capable of - there's a lot of dialogue in the movie. A lot of back-and-forth and a lot of banter, but in the end, they both have to be incredibly appealing people that I have to have you fall in love with them being in love.

LYDEN: Well, great banter. My favorite banter is from Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck all the way back to "Double Indemnity."

Mr. GILROY: That's some great writing.

LYDEN: And they have that business, how fast was it going?

Mr. GILROY: I know. It's great.

LYDEN: Yeah. Yeah.

(Soundbite of film, "Double Indemnity")

Ms. BARBARA STANWYCK (Actor): (As Phyllis Dietrichson) There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff, 45 miles an hour.

Mr. FRED MacMURRAY (Actor): (As Walter Neff) How fast was I going, Officer?

Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) I'd say around 90.

Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) Suppose you get down off your motorcycle and give me a ticket?

Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) Suppose I let you off with a warning this time?

Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) Suppose it doesn't take?

Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) Of course, I'd have to whack you over the knuckles.

Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) Suppose I bust out crying and put my head on your shoulder?

Ms. STANWYCK: (As Dietrichson) Suppose you try putting it on my husband's shoulder?

Mr. MacMURRAY: (As Neff) That tears it.

LYDEN: So, you've got that here. And what's amazing is that on top of all of that, you have an incredibly complicated story.

Mr. GILROY: It seems like it would be the kind of script that would be very difficult to write. This seems so complicated, but it was actually laid out - I have the romance.

It wants to be a fun movie, it doesn't want to be a very serious movie. And the idea of corporate espionage, when you take those three things and put them together, and you start to sketch as a writer, it kind of laid out in a way that was very simple to write.

LYDEN: That's great. Well, any hints about your next film?

Mr. GILROY: I really have no - I have no idea what I'm going to do next. I always try to do one thing at a time. And we had to sit on "Michael Clayton" for a long time. We finished it, and we had to wait to release it, and in that time, we put this film together.

So when we were finally unveiling "Michael Clayton," we were beginning to prepare this, and we hadn't anticipated that "Michael Clayton" was going to do any of the things that it did.

And so, we were prepping the whole time we were going through all that red carpet insanity, that four-month extravaganza.

LYDEN: It's a tough job, Tony Gilroy, but somebody has to do it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GILROY: No, it's a weird - but to prep a movie, and then a week after the Academy Awards, we started shooting. So it's sort of been a bit of a blur. So I'm going to try to go back to my day job. I'm going to try to write something. I haven't written anything original in a while, and I'm going to sort of go into the humbling room and see what happens.

LYDEN: Tony Gilroy is the writer and director of the film "Duplicity" starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen. It opened this weekend. Tony Gilroy, thanks so much, and good luck with it.

Mr. GILROY: Thank you, Jacki.

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Spies Like Us: 'Duplicity' Doubles Down On Deceit

Julia Roberts in 'Duplicity' i i

Would You Trust This Woman? Julia Roberts plays Claire, a former CIA operative gone corporate in Duplicity. Universal Studios hide caption

itoggle caption Universal Studios
Julia Roberts in 'Duplicity'

Would You Trust This Woman? Julia Roberts plays Claire, a former CIA operative gone corporate in Duplicity.

Universal Studios

Duplicity

  • Director: Tony Gilroy
  • Genre: Thriller, Romance
  • Running time: 125 minutes

Rated: PG-13 for language and some sexual content

The only thing you can trust about Duplicity is its title. It's a throwback to the days of old school caper movies like To Catch A Thief.

It's also just the kind of sophisticated amusement you would expect from filmmaker Tony Gilroy, who wrote the Bourne films and made his directorial debut with Michael Clayton.

In Duplicity, he has done a lighter-side version of the latter: Back we go to the dog-eat-dog world of corporate malfeasance and industrial espionage. Only this time, it's played for laughs and romance.

Julia Roberts is a CIA officer and Owen is an MI6 agent. They've decided to go private and run an elaborate scam that takes advantage of a war between rival corporations. The question is: Can they trust each other enough to allow that to happen?

Even if you beg, I'm not going to tell you any more. All I'll say is that Duplicity's plotting is dazzlingly complex, full of turns inside twists and twists inside turns. It makes your head spin like an amusement-park ride you can barely hang onto, something that needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

And no disrespect to Roberts and Owen, but the real star here is Gilroy, a writer-director with a gift for updating classic Hollywood with smart and sophisticated contemporary touches. He has written fine dialogue of all sorts, from repartee to romance to comedy and tension, and he has directed with snap, energy and playfulness. Everything in Duplicity may be a scam, but Gilroy's talent is the real thing.

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